Meningococcal diseases are caused by a germ (a kind of bacteria) called meningococcus. This germ can cause two serious diseases:
- Meningitis, an infection of the fluid and lining that cover the brain and spinal cord, and
- Septicemia, a serious blood infection that can damage organs in the body.
How common are meningococcal diseases?
- Not common. In Canada, there are about 200 cases each year. Less than 1 person in every 100,000 gets the disease each year.
- The germ-group causing most meningococcal infections in Canada is group B. Others are with A, C, Y, and W135.
How serious are these diseases?
- Without treatment, almost all children with meningococcal disease will die or suffer damage that lasts the rest of their lives.
- Even with treatment, about 1 in 15 children will die.
- Deafness occurs in 1 to 2% of those who survive meningitis.
- Septicemia can kill very quickly, in as little as 6 to 12 hours. Survivors of septicemia may have permanent scarring or require amputation of limbs.
How do meningococcal diseases spread?
The germs that cause meningococcal diseases are spread by those who have the germs living in their nose and throat. This can happen:
- When people are in close contact especially when living in the same house (e.g., kissing, coughing or sneezing when others are nearby).
- Through saliva, when people share food or drinks from a cup or can, water bottles, drinking straws, toothbrushes, mouthed toys, mouthguards, or musical instruments with a mouthpiece.
A doctor will often give antibiotics to family members or others who have come into close contact with someone who has meningococcal disease. This helps stop the germs from spreading. Sometimes vaccine is also given.
How is meningococcal disease treated?
- Treatment requires antibiotics given by vein.
- Fluids are also given by vein, as well as drugs to support blood pressure. A machine may be needed to help breathing.
How can you tell if your child has meningococcal meningitis?
- Early signs may include fever, drowsiness, reduced consciousness (your child doesn’t seem to wake up ), irritability, fussiness (crying) and/or agitation.
- Other symptoms include: severe headache, vomiting, stiff neck, pain when moving the head or neck, aches and pains, joint pain, and seizures.
- Some children with meningococcal meningitis have a skin rash made up of red spots that don’t disappear when pressed. The spots can get quite large over a short period of time.
How can you tell if your child has meningococcal septicemia?
- Early signs are fever, aches and pains, nausea, loss of appetite, joint pain and headache.
- Children with this disease get sick within a few hours. They become drowsy, semi-conscious, irritable or agitated.
- Almost all children with septicemia have a skin rash that starts as red spots that can happen on any part of the body. The spots increase in size and number in just a few hours.
- The disease can move very quickly. Complications include a drop in blood pressure (shock), coma, seizures, and difficulty breathing.
How can I protect my child?
You can protect your child from these diseases with a vaccine.
More information from the CPS
Reviewed by the following CPS committees
- Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Last updated: September 2020